A tough haul: Water woes of north Valley homeowners slowly lumber toward resolution
The long, complex effort by federal, municipal and county officials, as well as a private water company, to provide a permanent source of hauled water to residents of New River and Desert Hills in the north Valley appears to be approaching its conclusion, however slowly.
Plans to build a dedicated water station to provide truck-delivered water to the residences by the end of April hit a bump recently when project officials learned that the road-side property selected as the station location carried a federal open-spaces designation.
Releasing the property from its “National Area of Open Space” designation took several weeks.
As a result, the City of Phoenix has extended its deadline for permitting access to its hydrants once again. For months, Phoenix has provided the area’s water-haulers with temporary permits to access its fire hydrants for potable water.
In a letter dated May 1, Phoenix Vice Mayor Thelda Williams informed the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors that the city would extend the permits through August 31.
(The roughly 500 New River/Desert Hills residences in question are built on county land, outside municipal jurisdictions.)
However, noted the vice-mayor, this latest extension will be the last one:
“The City has no intention of again extending this final deadline,” she wrote.
That deadline should not be an obstacle for providing the homeowners with uninterrupted water service, according to the state director for EPCOR, the private water provider that is building the new water station.
“We are committed to have the station up and running for the water haulers by July 20,” said Troy Day, head of EPCOR operations in Arizona, to the Foothills Focus online newspaper.
The predicament facing the New River and Desert Hills residents began for reasons that had little to do with jurisdictions or government policies.
It had a lot to do, on the other hand, with water availability in an extremely water-light region of central Arizona.
Most of the New River and Desert Hills developments actually are a collection of tiny developments that fall outside the jurisdiction of Arizona’s strict “Active Management Area” statutes, which require that the developers of projects that include six or more lots must assure their homebuyers a supply of water for at least 100 years.
Developments with fewer than six lots, on the other hand, had no such requirement to demonstrate water availability.
That legal quirk helped make new homes in a lovely portion of high-desert foothills more affordable. But it also placed the water supplies of those residences outside the regulatory jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Rather than tap into a municipal supplier’s assured-water system, the New River/Desert Hills homeowners relied on wells. And as the Southwest’s nearly 20-year drought continued, and still more wells were drilled on behalf of still more homeowners, the area’s extremely shallow aquifer became overtaxed.
And wells began going dry.
A recent analysis of the region’s groundwater conditions by ADWR Chief Hydrologist Frank Corkhill tells much of the story.
Depth to bedrock in the New River, Anthem and Desert Hills area is extremely shallow, ranging from zero to 800 feet. That doesn’t leave much room for groundwater to swell up in an aquifer.
Groundwater flow from that aquifer system in the northern reaches of the Valley, meanwhile, is from north to south and southeast. Away from the region, in other words.
There are numerous other issues with the area’s groundwater reliability.
Drought has reduced the region’s already-small amount of natural groundwater recharge, for example. At the same time, increasing groundwater pumping, both from the area’s numerous domestic and municipal wells has grown rapidly. As a result, water-level declines in some areas have ranged between 80 feet and 200 feet since the late 1990s.